NBC is certainly getting into the holiday spirit with the upcoming premiere of the TV movie The Year Without a Santa Claus. When his devious elf, Sparky (Chris Kattan), tells him that he must "keep up with the times", Santa Claus (John Goodman) resists, fearing that the holiday has become far too commercial. Convinced that no one believes in him anymore and that people have forgotten the real meaning of Christmas, Santa decides to take the year off and not deliver any gifts, much to the dismay of his two closest elves, Jingle (Ethan Suplee) and Jangle (Eddie Griffin). When Santa tells them that he doesn't think there are any children left who still care about the true spirit of Christmas, the two elves decide to prove him wrong. Their efforts are complicated by Heatmiser and Snowmiser, the two feuding sons of Mother Nature (Carol Kane), whose help Jingle and Jangle will need if they want to save Christmas.
We recently sat in on a conference call with John Goodman, Delta Burke (she plays Mrs. Claus) and Executive Producer Mark Wolper.
How do you deal with people who can't believe The Year Without a Santa Claus is being done as a live action movie?
Mark Wolper: I have a feeling that is going to be a question asked a lot and it's always asked of producers whenever we do a remake. My answer always is what if somebody only did Romeo and Juliet one time in the globe theater? We do things over again because we like to reinterpret great pieces of material. That's all we tried to do here.
John Goodman: That works for me.
Delta Burke: Works for me. Very well said.
Whose idea was it to bring Michael McKean in as Snowmiser?
Mark Wolper: With Heatmiser and Snowmiser, like the names suggest, we were just trying to find very opposite prototypes for it. We knew we wanted, in particular in the choice of voice... singing is such an integral part of it, so Michael McKean has a very melodic and soft voice and Harvey Fierstein does not. We thought it was a funny combination of heat and cold.
For John and Delta, what was it like playing Mr. and Mrs. Claus?
John Goodman: I tried not to think of them as cultural icons but just working stiffs.
Delta Burke: Yeah, pretty much.
John Goodman: He just works one day a year.
Delta Burke: When you're doing it you're not thinking about the icon part.
Delta, why did you want to be a part of this film? Did you base Mrs. Claus on anyone that you know?
Delta Burke: No, not really. I didn't really think about anybody, I just kind of got that wig on my head, looked at those pages of what I was supposed to be feeling and took it from there.
Can you talk about the film's message?
Delta Burke: It just seemed like a wonderful script when I saw it. I don't even think I saw the original movie. The script was so funny, all these different characters, it was kind of hip, it was a new Santa, it was a whole new idea on it.
Are there any musical numbers in the film?
Mark Wolper: Yes, we are taking the one most memorable and, I felt, the most important one from the original and that is the Heatmiser-Snowmiser song which has become very hip and iconoclastic and a best seller on iTunes. That's the only musical number that we used from the original, and that was the only musical number that my wife and children have been singing... for the last 5 years. That is partly what made me try and do a remake.
John and Delta, what do you as actors do to make these very well known characters well rounded?
John Goodman: You know, Santa doesn't shoplift. I just try to, like I do with everything, bring a little bit of myself, because usually I got nothing else to work with. We had a very funny script and it wasn't much of a stretch. You just don't think of him as an icon but as, maybe a human being, I don't know. He's not human but I am, and that's pretty much all you have to go with.
Delta Burke: As a child growing up, I was not that interested in Mrs. Claus. I was really interested in her husband and what he was gonna bring me, you know? It's not something I've given much thought to. I was figuring, the times that I had seen Mrs. Claus she had seemed like a nice, sweet lady. What I liked about the script was it did show these different levels. That Santa is troubled and Mrs. Claus is trying to help him with that. You can tell that she genuinely loves him and is trying so hard to help him and does whatever needs to be done.
What are some things you added to this movie to sort of fill it out?
Mark Wolper: Well, in the original Mr. and Mrs. Claus were obviously key characters. We added an elf named Sparky played by Chris Kattan. That was one of our new inventions. We changed the story about the boy and made it a little more complex about a father son relationship. Which was more than what was in the original about belief or disbelief. We didn't really change too much, just putting it in today's language, and dealing with the issues that a lot of people reflect on today. That is over commercialization and all that sort of stuff.
John, what was it like wearing a Santa suit in 100 degree weather shooting the film in Louisiana?
John Goodman: It was the Santa diet. I dropped about 10 lbs. a day in liquid. It focused me. There was no external nonsense. We knew that we were dealing with something pretty serious because I would tend to get very dizzy toward to end of a day. We knew we had to focus and get it done. At the same time we had a ball doing it.
Is it a little difficult to imagine you're in the North Pole in that kind of heat?
John Goodman: I don't know why but once we were inside, where we shot the interiors, yeah it was hot but... it was fun.
Mark, talking a little bit about Jingle and Jangle, what were you looking for from those characters and those actors?
Mark Wolper: I was looking for them to be very funny. They were sort of the messengers of the whole show; the tour guides through this adventure. We wanted two people like Heatmiser and Snowmiser who were kind of contradictory in their approaches to things. We wanted guys that we thought could be very funny, and we wanted guys that would get this show better ratings, and people that would be fun to hang out with. So they sort of fit all of those bills. They were extremely opposite. Oddly enough, they were almost more opposite than Heatmiser and Snowmiser, just in terms of their pacing and their being and their personas.
Was that a real reindeer in the film?
Mark Wolper: It was part real and part CGI. It was either a real reindeer or a complete CGI one. We either did one or the other.
John Goodman: The guy that I dealt with was a real reindeer.
Mark Wolper: Real reindeer are not trainable animals.
John Goodman: It was really hard. We didn't have a lot of time. For some reason, Santa made him listen and listen hard. He was very compliant. I don't know what happened but he was concentrating really well.
What do you hope kids get out of seeing this movie?
Delta Burke: Well, the important message to me would be, I'm relating to John about how things have changed so much, kind of longing for the way things were. For children, I think the magic of Santa, Santa does exist, how he came into play in the little boy's life.
John Goodman: That Christmas is more about the importance of family than it is about the latest electronic gadgets.
Mark Wolper: It deals with today's issues... with multiple working family households, kids that have too many activities and everything. It's a little bit about lets slow down a little bit and stop and smell the roses in our own family. Lets not forget that it's life first and work second.
The Year Without Santa Claus airs at 9-11 P.M. ET on Monday, December 11 on NBC.
The Year Without a Santa Claus hits DVD December 12 from Warner Home Video.